Trade agreements have a profound influence on how regulations to protect public health and how we produce food are developed, implemented and enforced or not enforced. U.S. and EU food safety regulations in the US and the EU often set the bar for such standards around the world. There is much at stake in the wording of trade agreements, but remarkably, draft negotiations texts remained undisclosed to the public affected by the trade related food safety chapters in those texts. Instead of a public debate about appropriate protections for health and the type of agriculture we want, these negotiations are taking place behind closed doors, and heavily influenced by corporate trade advisors whose employers are the main beneficiaries of the trade agreements. This is a perverse approach to trade negotiations, forcing the public to read between the lines of leaked, partial texts. This leaked draft TTIP chapter doesn’t tell us everything about where negotiations are headed on food safety, but it tells us enough to raise serious concerns.
IATP is one of more than 250 organizations that signed a letter to the European Commissioner of Trade, Karel De Gucht, demanding that the European Commission increase the transparency of TTIP negotiations, by among other measures, releasing for comment draft texts of the TTIP chapters following the conclusion of each round of negotiations. IATP reiterates that demand and expands it to include the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which has held minimal public consultations on TTIP but has refused to release draft negotiating texts. Trade policy, because it requires that all national regulations protecting public health, the environment and worker safety, be subject to a “least trade restrictive” requirement, is simply too important to be left to government officials of the executive branch and corporate advisors.
TTIP language and consumer food safety concerns
The language of trade agreements is not consumer friendly. Concrete concerns about food safety are rendered abstract in the recently leaked draft TTIP chapter on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) issues. For example, consumer questions, raised at the July 14-18 round- of TTIP negotiations in Brussels, about the effect on European ‘farm to fork” food safety programs, if the EU were to allow U.S. exports of chemically rinsed poultry are nowhere answered in the draft. Consumers who expect to discover in the draft SPS chapter where the negotiations stand on specific consumer concerns, such as the non-therapeutic use of veterinary drugs like antibiotics allowed in U.S. meat and poultry production, or the import and labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms, will be disappointed.
Instead, trade agreement SPS language about food safety, animal health and plant health outlines the general terms for enabling trade while complying with “the importing Party’s appropriate level of protection.” So, for example, unless the European negotiators object to the use of Maximum Residue Level (MRL) of a specific pesticide on imported grain or a specific veterinary drug in the production of imported meat, without creating “unjustified barriers to trade” (Article 2, paragraph 2), the TTIP regards that product as having an “appropriate level of protection” to enable importation and consumption of the product. Determination of MRLs and other metrics of what is “appropriate” happens in a domestic regulatory process, in which, at least in the U.S., much of the relevant data is classified as Confidential Business Information. Additionally or alternatively, those metrics can be set by international standard setting bodies, such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission, referenced in the TTIP draft. And given significant industry presence in Codex-these standards are often at the low end of consumer protection.
The draft SPS chapter requires TTIP Parties to adopt Codex standards “[within 12 months] (the brackets signify disagreement) “unless the importing party signals a reservation” (Article 8, paragraph 3). The European Commission uses the “unless” proviso, so that European Union members states would not be obliged to import U.S. meat grown with ractopamine, a veterinary drug banned in the EU but approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the United States. Codex adopted a ractopamine MRL by an extraordinary and controversial vote on the basis of a risk assessment involving a half dozen 20 year old studies. The U.S. meat industry, on the other hand, has made it clear that the EU ban on ractopamine has to be removed as a concrete outcome of the negotiations and thus this “carveout” will be subject to further controversy from the U.S. side.